When we think of human activity that negatively impacts climate change we think of driving our cars, flying planes and burning fossil fuels. But what about logging? A new study shows that the negative impact logging has on climate change has been seriously underreported. The study also points to the ways that the forest industry can help in the fight against climate change.
Details on the Study
The study on logging was published by the Dogwood Alliance. Dogwood Alliance is a forest conservation group based in North Carolina. The report points out that while the United States is busy telling other countries to protect their tropical forests, the U.S. is completely ignoring the impact of their own logging industry.
Danna Smith, a co-author on the Dogwood Alliance report, explains, “The U.S. has just failed to acknowledge the role that the logging industry has played in the climate crisis, and has failed to embrace the need to restore old growth, intact forests across the U.S. as a critical piece of the puzzle in solving the climate crisis.”
The Myth That Logging Is Carbon Neutral
Congress recently declared in a budget deal that burning wood for electricity is carbon neutral. This budget deal was backed by the logging industry, so skeptics have a reason to raise their eyebrows at the term “carbon neutral.” Kirin Kennedy, the associate legislative director for lands at wildlife at the Sierra Club, disagrees. Kennedy says, “We can't log our way out of climate change. Burning wood products actually contributes more toward the increase of emissions into the atmosphere."
Kennedy is right. The Dogwood Alliance report calculated that between 2006 and 2010 the annual carbon emissions from logging in the United States were approximately 600 million metric tons. That’s more emissions than those produced by all residential and commercial buildings combined.
The Paris Climate Agreement
In 2015, countries around the world signed the Paris Climate Agreement vowing to meet emission lowering targets and other goals by fixed dates. One of the most ambitious targets set out by the Paris Climate Agreement is limiting temperature increases to only 1.5 degrees per year. Unfortunately, most climate scientists now believe that we have very little chance of meeting this target in time to keep up with the agreement.
In order to meet this target, some countries pledged to take their wood burning emissions and move the carbon dioxide underground. In essence, the practice of burning plants and trees would replace coal-powered electricity and the negative carbon emissions could simply be buried. Unfortunately, the Dogwood Alliance study reported that this carbon capturing technology isn’t widely available and would involve cutting down more trees than ever.
But Danna Smith believe the answer to our climate change problem still lies within forests. She says, “At this point, the best technology we have—the most highly evolved, tried and true—is forests.”
Old Forests vs. New Planting
When Smith talks about the answer to climate change lying in the forests, she is talking about the ability of forests to remove carbon dioxide from the air. The EPA estimates that US forests currently remove 11-13% of fossil-fuel burning emissions. Globally, forests offset approximately 25% of all emissions.
But we can do better. The Dogwood Alliance report notes the power of older forests. While only 15% of the United States’ forests are over 100 years old, these older forests are able to pull more carbon dioxide out of the air compared to their younger counterparts.
However, the logging industry is hurting the ability of older forests to more efficiently remove carbon dioxide from the air. By cutting down older trees, logging companies are adding an even stronger negative effect to climate change. The logging industry argues that they are replanting and expanding forests but in these new forests where trees are replanted every 20-30 years, the trees aren’t as good as we need them to be at removing carbon dioxide from the air.
Smith explains, “We're not getting it yet that forests are a critical part of the solution. We're not looking in our own backyard, and yet we're telling the rest of the world what to do."